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Why moving on from Brexit is easier said than done

by David Hannay | 14.09.2016

It is impossible not to sympathise up to a point with those who plead for us to move on from the Brexit debate. For nearly a year now, since David Cameron launched his ill-fated and misjudged gamble to go for an early referendum on Britain’s EU membership, our policy discourse has been full of Brexit, much of it outright lies. Yet this is a subject which opinion polls have shown with remarkable consistency to be quite low in the order of priorities for most British voters. Why not assume that it was all over on 23 June, like some sporting fixture, and that there is nothing more worth talking about? Because that is simply not so. Most of the hard choices remain to be made and none of them were properly aired in the campaign that preceded the referendum.

Of course, if the result on 23 June had gone the other way and Remain had won, we would by now have moved on. The government would be pressing for the Single Market in e- commerce, services and energy to be completed, would be promoting the flagging negotiations for agreements with the US, Japan and other countries, and would be helping to shape the response to the internal and external security challenges which Europe faces.

But that is not where we are. Britain will not be at the Bratislava summit meeting at the end of this week when EU leaders will be discussing all this. The Leave victory means that we have to address every aspect of Britain’s new external relationship with the EU and try to ensure that it contributes to, rather than detracts from, our future prosperity and security.

Clearly the trade relationship with the EU will be at the heart of these hard choices. The difference between, on the one hand, effectively remaining in the Single Market and, on the other, tariff free trade which would mean our exports being subject to customs controls, rules of origin checks and regulatory burdens, is as yet poorly understood and inadequately analysed. Yet it will crucially affect inward investment decisions in manufacturing and service industries.

Moreover, the choices go much wider than that. How do we ensure that the network of European law enforcement and intelligence sharing arrangements, such as the European Arrest Warrant and the Schengen Information System, which are essential to our internal security, are sustained and not sacrificed? How do we avoid losing the benefits to our scientific research and to our universities of cooperative European programmes, which is not just a question of replacing European with national funding?

How do we make sure that our approaches to free movement and to trade do not strain to breaking point the unity of the United Kingdom and undermine the peace settlement in Northern Ireland? How do we continue to work together with the EU on the whole range of foreign policy, regional, development and human rights issues where we will continue to share the same interests and the same values but we will no longer be in the room shaping the policies?

Answering these questions will require careful analysis and open debate in parliament and more widely. Every one of them is sensitive and contentious. Solving them will be part of moving on, not something we can afford to duck out of.

Edited by Michael Prest

One Response to “Why moving on from Brexit is easier said than done”

  • Whilst I have every sympathy with your views we must realise that the ill advised made the decision they did.
    I am still unsure how we had a parliamentary decision made that with only about a 70 percent turnout that just over half of this constitutes a majority, but their we have it. 35 percent swings a change from the status quo.
    However we are now in this cock up and after a few years something will emerge. It will NOT be better just different. At least we have a decent lady leader to get us through some of it.